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Great idea for new Brit carriers - if we get any

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Who can save the carriers? Robert Peston, perhaps

Thus we have seen recently a last-ditch effort by persons unnamed among the companies building the carriers to save their lucrative contract. Robert Peston of the BBC has found himself in possession of leaked information revealing the surge in projected cost for the ships. The info would have come out soon anyway, but normally it would have been part of a large government data dump on the eve of Parliament breaking up for the summer recess.

This way the allied shipbuilding and defence firms get to put the blame for the cost increases on the government in advance and highlight the prospect of job losses and industrial misery right from the start, while politicians are still at work and the media are still paying attention.

This might still seem like a foolish move by the contractors, as it could lead exasperated politicians to cancel the ships right away. But Gordon Brown can't do that - he's got little enough chance at the election anyway without forcing thousands of voters in his own political strongholds onto the dole.

Furthermore, Quentin Davies - the current kit minister - has recently been manoeuvred by the Navy into firmly endorsing the carriers. Meanwhile, with resulting jobs fears rife in Scotland and elsewhere, there's the chance that Labour will be forced to do something to make the ships safer before the election.

We here on the Reg defence desk can understand the Army's objection to the carriers - or rather, their feeling that they should be last in the queue for cuts - but personally we believe they're wrong on this one. We'd argue that, unlike many other ongoing, horrifically overbudget defence projects, carriers are actually useful, to the Army as well as the RN.

To start with, a properly-equipped carrier is far the best way to fight a dangerous well-equipped enemy at sea. AWACS planes and modern fighters are the best card to play against sea-skimming shipkiller missiles and (better) most of the things which launch them. Proper AWACS also trumps diesel-electric submarines, keeping them submerged. This effectively pins them to the map and denies them even the ability to communicate. Sure, a naval anti-air commander would rather have super-duper missile destroyers too - and probably the moon on a stick while we're at it - but you can't always have everything you want.

Still, unlike many things which are only really useful against well-equipped enemies whom we'll probably never really fight, carriers are also good for everyday wars. They provide control of the skies and airstrike support without any need for a vast airbase ashore somewhere in the region: a base with a vast perimeter to guard, easily struck by even the cheapest terrorist-style weapons and dependent on expensive, vulnerable overland supply convoys.

The Army, in our opinion - and sure, it's only one man's opinion - would do well to remember their history. If we'd had proper carriers in the Falklands, there'd be a lot of Welsh Guardsmen still alive and well who today are long dead or still suffering from their injuries (hit in the bombing of the Sir Galahad). There would have been a lot more helicopters and other vital resources to hand in the fighting ashore, too, as the Atlantic Conveyor wouldn't have been sunk.

A fair number of British soldiers have been killed in enemy air attacks in the post World War Two era, in fact. And one might recall that every time a British fighter has shot down an enemy plane during that period, that fighter took off from a carrier to do so.

History shows that carriers are useful for the real wars which actually happen, as well as for the possible-perhaps wars for which one may or may not need to prepare. That's where carriers differ from things like Nimrod MRA4, Eurofighter/Typhoon Tranche 3, Type 45 and all the rest of them.

So, being friends to Her Majesty's fighting forces, we're hoping that the Queen Elizabeth ships survive. A tiny little extra factor in their favour would be presented by the existence of working, effective EMALS tech in America, so we're also hoping things go well for General Atomics on the just-announced deal. ®

*They can lift off vertically, but not with any useful amount of fuel and payload aboard - the vertical landing after a mission is only possible because fuel has been burned and weapons dropped. Vertical takeoffs are normally just for displays.

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